Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roe: Reverend Ammi Rogers and the Pre-history of Roe v. Wade

This paper addresses the 1818 criminal case of a Connecticut minister named Ammi Rogers who was accused of impregnating Asenath Smith, a young woman to whom he was not married, and then giving her an abortion-inducing substance. Procedural and substantive difficulties in prosecuting Rogers were said to be the impetus behind an 1821 Connecticut statute that is cited as the first United States statute to criminalize abortion. Ammi Rogers’s case marked the beginning of a process of using formal law to rein in social, religious and sexual autonomy. In the decades subsequent to Rogers’s case, legal barriers to abortion spread throughout the United States. In many cases abortion laws seemed to be responses to the way that growing numbers of people could exercise sexual autonomy via access to and knowledge of abortion services, thereby controlling their own lives. In short, it was fear of sex, drugs and rock and roll that often fueled legal limits on abortion.